My Journey by Patricia Gould

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My Journey by Patricia Gould
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Patricia Gould, July-August 2005

Having never applied for a residency before, I was hesitant to apply when I read the announcement in since it seemed primarily geared toward painters, film makers, and writers. Had I known the pool of applicants totaled over 500, I might not have applied but my ignorance of those odds led me to and I was chosen as one of the 24 artists. The residency is superbly organized by Hungarian born, world renowned painter Beata Szechy, founder/director of the Hungarian Multicultural Center (HMC) in Dallas. During the summer, two or three groups of twelve artists spend four weeks at a guest house near Balatonfured Hungary, a beautiful resort town on Lake Balaton (a few hours west of Budapest). The overall objective of the residency is summed up in the introduction page on the HMC web site as the opportunity to reside and work as a resident artist in an atmosphere designed to stimulate personal vision and encourage new and exciting artistic expressions.


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The objective of this residency is multi-faceted. First and foremost is for artists to gain a deeper knowledge of the rich culture and wonderful spirit of Hungarian people and to act as ambassadors for their own countries. Secondly, artists are brought together from different countries, backgrounds, media, and styles to encourage new dialogues which may impact their creative expression. Art transcends political boundaries and although each culture has developed their own unique forms of expression, the basic nature of humanity is common to us all, regardless of where we call home. Exploration of new surroundings and each other was just as important as the exploration of our personal artistic avenues. In February 2005, I was elated to receive my acceptance letter and went into high gear preparing for this adventure. The idea of going alone to Hungary was appealing since I love the spontaneous and unknown aspects of travel. With many details to work out I focused more on practical aspects than on emotional fears regarding my ability to live up to my own expectations, which I would confront once I arrived. I feel it's very important to understand the history and culture of foreign places I visit so I purchased several useful guide books. As flying to Budapest is expensive, I was fortunate to have accrued enough frequent flyer miles to travel round-trip with an upgrade to business class which really saved my back and made it easier to transport three pieces of luggage, one completely full of fabrics and art supplies. I made plans to spend four days in Budapest prior to the residency, soaking up the unique culture of the city, as did many other artists in my group. Rooms had been reserved for us by the HMC at a guest house located on the Pest side of Budapest, close to the Danube, the Parliament, and the Metro station. Once travel arrangements were confirmed, my next task was arranging for a sewing machine since I work primarily by machine. The thought of hauling my 20 pound Bernina all the way to Central Europe made me nervous so finding an alternative became my next priority. I emailed the Bernina dealer in Budapest (Varrogepcentrum) explaining my situation with the residency in Balatonfured and that I would like to rent or purchase an inexpensive machine for four weeks. I was amazed at the reply from Katalin, the store manager who spoke excellent English, that the shop would lend me a machine at no cost; all they asked is that I advertise their shop as much as possible. All this communication took place in March and April so I was quite anxious right up until my arrival in July, when I would meet them in person. In the months prior to departure I continued to research Hungary, planned what I supplies I would need, renewed my passport, and purchased a new lightweight laptop. My flight departed Albuquerque on Tuesday morning, arriving in Budapest on Wednesday evening, and I found it easy to get a shuttle from the airport to the guest house. The next morning, I walked to the Danube for a glimpse of the imposing 750 year old castle on the Buda side of the city across the river. Already I knew this was a magical place I would embrace and want to return to in the future. I wanted to lose myself in the magic but I had to pick up the machine first; there would be time for gallivanting later. I called Katalin to let her know I had arrived, whereupon she picked me up and took me to their shop. Laszlo, the owner, and all the employees were excited to meet me, look at photos of my quilts and get to know a little bit about me and where I lived in the US; I was very proud to be a cultural ambassador. I was delighted to learn they were loaning me a brand new Bernina 440, including the Bernina suitcase for easier transport. Katalin took me shopping for fabrics and threads and then the shop owner's son, Tommy, took me sight seeing around the castle and fortress. When I was completely exhausted, the machine and I were delivered back to my room at the guest house; they refused my offer of leaving a deposit or a credit card number for this $3000 machine. The incredible generosity and kindness they showed me was not an exception; I would find that Hungarians went out of their way to be extraordinarily helpful over the next few weeks. Extensive travel to six continents has taught me the importance of learning to say: please, thank you, hello, goodbye, how are you?, yes, and no in several local languages (though that wasn't necessary in Antarctica). Few Hungarians speak English but most speak German as a second language which proved helpful to me. My French, Spanish, and Italian were no use but I have picked up enough German from past travels that I was able to read menus, bus schedules, and buy supplies in German. Although I am very good at reading maps and figuring out transit systems, there were times when construction on streets and mass transit made it difficult to decipher the detour instructions. Time and again locals would walk out of their way for several blocks to direct me to the right place. With three days left, I set out to discover Budapest and like most European cities, Budapest is best explored on foot. Since I grew up 75 miles from New York City, I had spent time in Manhattan alone as a teenager and was pretty street-wise. I quickly discovered it perfectly safe to walk alone nearly everywhere in Budapest during the day and also in the very early morning and at night; I was confident to venture out alone, though taking the usual precautions I would use in any city. I spent every waking hour enjoying the pulse of the city by wandering the narrow, medieval streets on both sides of the Danube, visiting the Opera house and several major art museums. In the late 19th and early 20th century, Budapest rivaled Vienna as the "Paris" of Central Europe, the place to "be" for artists, writers, and philosophers, until World War I brought upheaval with subsequent Russian and Soviet occupation. Hungarians again regained their independence in 1990, and then joined the EU in 2004. The cafe atmosphere of the 19th century is enjoying a welcome renaissance in the 21st century. While living in Europe in 1968, my parents instilled in me an appreciation for antiquities. One site I had to see was the partly restored Roman Aquincum just north of Budapest. The 20 minute train ride was as if I had hopped on a time machine. I spent the morning immersed in this ancient city, completely mesmerized by fragments of a civilization built two millennia ago. Several rooms had been reincarnated by restoring the surviving wall frescoes and furnishing the rooms with everyday items such as wicker furniture, baskets, fruit, flowers; I felt as though I had been invited into the home of a Roman citizen. A long storage shed filled with pieces of what was once a thriving civilization contained hundreds of stone columns chunks and other architectural elements, exquisitely embellished with flora, fauna, and abstract designs. What many people regard as a pile of old rocks and discarded "stuff", I see as a connection to other artists who shared the same hopes and dreams as modern artists. Hundreds of photos I took there will provide inspiration for future quilt series, focusing on the simple lines and textures of the decorations. After several days of individual exploration around Budapest, we were met by Beata and traveled by van to Csopak for the residency. Although the residency is international, our group comprised eleven Americans, purely by chance. The 12th artist chosen was from the UK and cancelled due to a family crisis. There were eight women and three men, ranging in age from 23 to 66, all incredibly talented, driven to create, and open to this extraordinary opportunity to discover new insights into themselves and their artistic paths. Our adventurous crew of eleven would make our home together at Forras Fodado, a spacious guest house surrounded by vineyards and sunflowers in Csopak, a little village on the outskirts of Balatonfured. We were two to a room in large rooms, each with a great view of Lake Balaton. An inside studio/family room housed shared painting supplies and we sometimes gathered there to view each other's artwork. Most of the painters worked on the huge covered patio and we ate our meals out there when the weather was nice, which was most of the time. Anett Henye is a single mom, who runs the guest house with the help of her 14 year old son Soma, and became a good friend to each of us. She went out of her way by taking us shopping and driving us places difficult to visit by bus. We traded English lessons for Hungarian lessons with both Anett and Soma. It wasn't like staying at a hotel at all; we were treated like family. Beata resides with the artists during every residency and is as passionate about the artists as she is at getting exposure for artists and the program. She is a very warm and caring woman who is never without Max, her beloved Beagle who was a joy to us all. On the first official day of the residency, each artist presented a 30 minute slide lecture about their artwork and intended focus during their tenure. That really helped us get to know each other as artists and individuals. When I presented my quilts, the other artists, who were mainly painters, were quite surprised that my artworks were created from fabric, thread, and sometimes a little paint. They had not been exposed to art quilts before and were very anxious to learn about my techniques. During the next four weeks, several artists would come into my room and watch my creations take shape with enthusiasm and although we didnÝt have any official critiques, several of us offered critiques of each other's artwork, something I miss from my days at art school. Being surrounded by artists for 24 hours a day is one of the things I cherish about the residency. By day we would venture out for our own explorations and that made for exciting conversations each evening, when we could gather to share a little local wine, reflecting on challenges and new found treasures in this strange new world. It was a two mile walk into the town of Balatonfured on the shores of Lake Balaton, the largest lake in central Europe and famed for its healing waters. The normally very pleasant weather of 80 degrees changed drastically as we experienced a record week-long heat wave with the mercury hitting 105 degrees, coupled with extreme humidity which made it uncomfortable since there is no air conditioning anywhere. After dinner on those sweltering nights we cooled off by swimming in the lake, a pleasant respite. The following week brought a cold front, sending us to the flea market to buy sweaters. Our time was completely unstructured and I spent every other day exploring by myself or with other artists. On my walks to town, meandering through old neighborhoods, I shot photos of the unique architecture of the homes and the spectacular gardens in the yards. Forras Fogado was located on a bus route making it possible to take buses farther afield without going into Balatonfured. One day, Robin Walker, a painter from Dallas, and I hopped on a bus to Veszprem, a medieval town about 20 miles away, where we discovered a British version of super Wal-Mart and also a huge home improvement store. Those were our best choices for cheap food, picture frames and other art supplies. That was the setting for the infamous incident of figuring out which bus to take back to our home base. Now that I knew the trick to getting the right bus, I went back to Veszprem by myself to visit the 1000 year old castle, one of the oldest in Hungary. I spent the day wandering around the hilly, narrow, and cobbled medieval streets, all part of the walled city built on a hill overlooking a large gorge. It was fascinating to walk through the restored buildings, many now used as shops for artisans and the ancient village square that hosts free jazz concerts throughout the summer. This was part of the complex tapestry of Hungary. The castles, the flowers, the wine, the people, their language, all woven together in patterns that make this place unique; wonderful inspiration for me to take back to my fabrics to begin cutting and collaging! I had decided before I began the residency that I wouldn't go with a plan for my art journey and just let the beauty of the landscape and Hungarian culture speak to me and let my work evolve from that. Since I work primarily in landscapes, I did bring fabrics along which I could use for landscapes; textures, flowery fabrics, leafy patterns, rocks, batiks, and a good selection of fabric paints, markers, and threads. After visiting every fabric store I passed, I quickly discovered that fabric choices were limited by our standards. Readily available fabrics consisted of woven, tweed types and silks, but very few types of cotton and no batiks. Very often I use silks and decorator fabrics in my landscapes so I wasnÝt averse to using them. On my first trip to Veszprem I had purchased a grey tweedy woven fabric, perfect for castle walls in ýVeszprem Castle Gateţ. I worked best by spending an entire day wandering around shooting digital photos then creating artwork for the next day or so, working from the images on my laptop. Six of us had laptops which proved to be a real help for developing ideas when working from photos, since it was difficult to get prints made. I had also purchased a large drawing pad and plenty of drafting supplies at the discount store in Veszprem. My first day of working was a warm up exercise, using my fabric paints to create a close up of the sunflowers and the colorful hills around our guest house which I framed and presented to the Bernina shop in Budapest as a thank you gift. I was so fascinated by the architecture and the beautiful flora of the area I naturally gravitated to working in that direction. While woven fabrics I purchased locally were perfect for portraying ancient castles and masonry of the homes, decorative stitches on the 440 machine, coupled with variegated threads I brought from home, lent themselves to embellishing the architecture with lush vegetation. On one piece in particular, Shadows & Light II, I didn't have the right fabrics at all so I painted most of the scene, using just a bit of fabric. A real boost to my confidence was that my co-artists admired how well I could render the scene with a combination of paint and fabrics seeing as I hadn't painted much in the 30 years since college. Paint was a main element in Breezy Morning, inspired by a sheer curtain blowing out from an open window. In eight weeks at Csopak I completed eight fiber landscapes and have several hundred photos for future quilts. I have ideas for several series from just simple architectural elements, intriguing since they are different than our doors and windows; they have their own stories to tell so I will attempt to offer them to the rest of the world. This residency effectively provides peaceful, unfettered time and space for artists to pursue their art; uninterrupted by phone calls, visitors, and chores. Either by bus, bicycle, or on foot, we could go into town to check our email at an internet cafe or shop. With no phone in the guest house, most of us walked to the local market and used pre-paid phone cards to call home now and then, although a public phone has since been installed. I so enjoyed rising at around six in the morning and having a quiet breakfast on the patio, soaking in the beauty of the gardens that surrounded the house. I shot photos of the crumbling stucco, the weathered windows and doors, and the exotic flowers. At mid-day, a local restaurant brought our catered lunch in the European tradition where lunch is a large, hot meal; a great opportunity for us to exchange our thoughts about everything from the challenge of getting on the right bus to finding coffee creamer at the market. It also made us feel like a family and furthered the bonds we were forming. For dinner, we were on our own to either cook in the communal kitchen or go out for an inexpensive meal. I shared some wonderful dinners with my fellow artists at a local restaurant about ten minutes walk away, where a gourmet meal with wine was served amidst beautiful gardens on the patio for less than $10; discussions that ensued were priceless. A requirement of the residency is that each artist donates one artwork to the Health Union, which owns the guest house in Budapest and Forras Fogado in Csopak. Another artwork is chosen to exhibit at HMC sponsored shows; Beata has organized an exhibit each year at the end of the summer sessions. Two nights before our residency ended, the first exhibition opened at the Congress Center in Balatonfured. On the afternoon of the reception, three different television stations came to the guest house to interview each artist and film us working in our respective media. At the reception, the mayor of Balatonfured opened with a speech, followed by a speech by a local art historian/curator. Because Hungarians really support the arts, the reception was very well attended and a few paintings sold that evening. Media coverage included television, radio announcements, several magazine and internet articles, and an article in the flight magazine for Malev (Hungarian national airline). In addition to the exhibition in Balatonfured, Beata Szechy worked with the HMC and the US embassy in Budapest to organize an exhibition including artworks from the 1996-2006 residencies at the Central European Cultural Institute in Budapest; a catalogue of that exhibit will be out in 2007. On my final day, everyone gathered to bid me farewell since I had an earlier departure than the rest of the group and I was truly sad to leave. I had made new friends, gained confidence in my ability to work under challenging conditions, and discovered new focus for my visions. During the four weeks at Balatonfured, we eleven artists shared our discoveries, our fears and insecurities, our support, and most of all, our joy. Some of us took baby steps, some made giant leaps; my steps were somewhere in the middle, I didn't come home with a completely new road map, but I had taken a few short journeys outside of my comfort zone and found some new avenues to explore. I have vowed to return someday as there is much more I would like to see and I felt warmly welcomed by the wonderful people of Hungary. The HMC is a 501(c non-profit each artist is provided with a studio space

The residency I attended was in July-August 2005 and the cost was $980, which included housing and two meals each day, plus airfare. The cost for 2007 is $1080. Since HMC is a non-profit, the organization has no funding to provide the artists, though artists can apply for grants from other sources to help offset the cost. I highly recommend this residency for artists with an adventurous spirit. Patricia Gould is an award-winning fiber artist who has exhibited her art quilts internationally, gaining much of her inspiration from her travels to exotic places. In addition to having visited 49 states, most of the Canadian provinces and much of Europe, her exotic wanderings have included Kenya, Tanzania, China, Russia, Brazil, Argentina, and even Antarctica.